Despite the pervasive rhetoric about modernization and Westernization, Georgia remains largely a peasant country. Fifty percent of the Georgian population is involved in agricultural production, while 64 percent of all poor people live in the countryside. The ruling authorities do not want to see this class amongst the protesting electorate willing to vote for any force other than the ruling party. Hence the government has adjusted its priorities. It is possible that, given the scheduled constitutional reforms, Merabishvili has been conceived as Saakashvili’s successor as president. However, following what may be a disastrous result for the current government in the upcoming elections, this ambitious politician could be displaced from the top of the Georgian hierarchy.
An Unpredictable Future
The next election cycle will be marked by intrigue. First of all, there is the new role of Mikheil Saakashvili. This question, however, is not only of domestic political importance. The Kremlin has repeatedly said that it will not conduct any negotiations with the current president of Georgia. But if there is change atop Georgia’s Mount Olympus, will Moscow communicate with any of his associates, such as Vano Merabishvi? Or the current mayor of Tbilisi, Giga Ugulava? Or the current chairman of the parliament, David Bakradze?
No less interesting is the intrigue associated with Ivanishvili. Does he really want to aggravate the game? Would he agree with the results of the parliamentary elections or endorse protests such as those seen in November 2003? Will he compete for the presidency in 2013? And, if so, would he accept the constitutional amendments in their entirety?
The question on the future foreign-policy priorities of Ivanishvili will remain. This politician made his successful business career in Russia. But that link to Russia will not guarantee a radical shift in the Georgian approaches to Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Russian Caucasus policy.
While Georgian politicians and experts look for responses these questions, Washington and Brussels have sent an unambiguous signal to Tbilisi. All the talks about increasing cooperation with NATO will be possible only in the case of successful elections and a civilized transition of power. Both Americans and Europeans have strongly emphasized that for them the importance of Georgia is not tied solely to the person of the current president. It seems that, above all else, the West wants predictability from their Georgian partner. For now, they will just have to wait out what is an unpredictable year.
Sergey Markedonov is a visiting fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Image: European People's Party